Nov 3, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts after a touchdown by running back Stevan Ridley (22) in the second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 55-31. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots finally broke out on the offensive side of the ball in yesterday’s game, going for an astounding 55 points, and 610 total yards. It has been quite some time since we saw the Pats offense perform like this, and I think I speak for everyone, when I say that is was nice to see this group return to their offensive dominance.
Shortly after the game came to a conclusion, I put together three immediate takeaways from New England’s performance. As is always the case, every NFL tilt deserves more than a mere 800 words, so here are three additional thoughts and observations from the Patriots domination of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1. Isaac Sopoaga Makes Impact
On paper, it may appear that the Steelers ran all over the Pats defense in this game. They ran the ball 20 times for a total of 108 yards, which averages out to a 5.4 average. Obviously those are not great numbers for New England, and if you take that at face value, it was not a good day for this unit. However the Steelers had multiple third and short and fourth and short opportunities throughout the game, and repeatedly, the Patriots were able to either stop them, or come damn close to stopping them. I think that a large portion of the credit has to be given to newcomer Isaac Sopoaga, who came to New England from Philadelphia, just before the trade deadline hit last week. Sopoaga is a big guy who will be expected to help fill the shoes of Vince Wilfork in the middle. Based simply on watching the game on television broadcast, I felt that Sopoaga had a decent opening game for the Pats, taking up space, and affecting the run game of the Steelers. He also allowed the two rookies, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, to be a little more fresh, thus improving the overall play of the Patriot defense. I am hopeful that Sopoaga will only improve while in New England, possibly spurring them on to a deep run in the playoffs. (As a side note, Jonathan Dwyer had only one carry in this game, which went for a game-long 30 yards. If you take that out of the official stat sheet, the Steelers numbers on the ground come crashing down to a mere 78 total yards, and a 4.1 average).
2. Aaron Dobson Emerging As Big-Time Threat
When the 2013 regular season kicked off, Tom Brady was faced with the challenge of working with two rookie receivers as key components to his offense. It was obvious that Kenbrell Thompkins was Brady’s number one guy after the preseason came to a conclusion, and it was Thompkins that received the majority of the targets as the season began. However the more talented Aaron Dobson slowly began to overtake Thompkins on the depth chart, culminating in Thompkins being inactive yesterday, despite being 100% healthy. Dobson’s size and explosive ability down the field, is what has allowed him to leap-frog Thompkins and we saw some big results in yesterday’s win. Dobson only caught five balls in this game, but they went for a whopping 130 yards, including two big touchdowns. His rapport with Brady is getting better as the days go by, as evidenced by his sweet 17 yard back-shoulder touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter. With the emergence of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola in the slot, if Dobson could continue his new-found success on the outside, the Pats offense could become extremely dangerous, much like it has been over the last couple of years.
3. Stephen Gostkowski Showing Why He Is One Of NFL’s Best
A common misconception among football fans is the fact that if you have a mediocre kicker, you can get by in the NFL. The simple truth is, you must have a solid kicker if you want to end up as one of the top teams in the league. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. When the game is on the line, and you need three points to either tie the game, or take the lead, you want a kicker that can make the clutch kick. Your kicker could be the deciding factor in if you become champions, or if become that “other team”.
In the Patriots’ case, they have a kicker that over his career, has showed why he is one of the best in the NFL. Gostkowski has hit 22 of the 23 field goals that he has attempted in 2013, including an extremely clutch 44 yarder a couple weeks ago in New York. Gostkowski has taken a lot of criticism over the years in New England (look at who he had to follow), but he has more than earned the right to leave peacefully here in New England. Gostkowski continued his strong 2013 campaign yesterday, drilling both field goals that he attempted, as he helped the Patriots crush the Steelers by a 24 point margin.